Today I remember a Spaniard who was the youngest of 13 children. While still a young man, he served as a soldier and was shot in the leg. During his recovery, he came to faith in Christ. He is perhaps best remembered for his writings entitled Spiritual Exercises. His name is Ignatius of Loyola.
About half of a millennium ago, in Paris, he befriended six men. Together they devoted themselves to exploring what Ignatius had learned regarding the nature of faith as contained in the Spiritual Exercises. From that exploration, they founded the Society of Jesus. Today we know them as the Jesuits. For those who have never heard of Ignatius’ writings, the Society of Jesus continues to stand in the 21st century as a living testimony to a man whose life was transformed by God. In fact, Oasis Madrid, the church I pastor, meets in a school that has its roots in Ignatius’ work. But that is not primarily why I remember Ignatius today.
I remember Ignatius of Loyola today because I find in his story a comforting testimony that God can take adverse circumstances and work them for our good and the world’s good. After all, Ignatius turned his life over to God as a result of a bullet. Yes, even the small things of the world can wound us greatly. But, regardless the magnitude of the injury, God’s healing power is always greater. And, being a “wounded healer” myself (as Henri Nouwen puts it), Ignatius’ life reminds me of that timeless truth.
I also remember Ignatius today because his life reminds me that small beginnings can birth large, lasting results. That’s comforting to me as I think of the small beginnings of planting a new church. Which leads me to another point of contact I feel with Ignatius…
I remember Ignatius today because he put “first things first”. He did not set out to form a group of Christ-followers that would impact others on a universal scale. He simply devoted himself to spiritual friendships with half a dozen thirsty souls and then empowered them to “go and do likewise” in whatever neighborhood in which they happened to reside. I love the simplicity of Ignatius’ work. 6 friends, nothing more. And, lest we forget the simplicity of their mission, I’ll record it here as a reminder: they focused on visiting the sick and serving the poor. In fact, we are told that the first Jesuit missionaries took pains to avoid engaging others in “arguments” regarding the Christian faith and “intellectual showmanship”. Though they easily could have utilized convincing rhetoric to win others to the faith, they refrained, opting instead to embody the Christian apologetic with love and good deeds.
Some time ago, I was visiting with my mentor and friend, Brian Newman. We were reflecting on the future. And, as I was discussing with him the future of Oasis Madrid, a small list of names came to mind and spilled off my tongue. These names are folks whom I regard in a special kind of light because they are leaders and emerging leaders: the future of tomorrow’s church (wherever that “church” may be). And they also happen to be a part of our church, for the time being.
Now, Oasis Madrid is a small church. Most times we have only about 40 people in our services. But, among this tiny family, God has blessed us with more than our fair share of leaders and potential leaders. And, as I was talking with Brian, this both excited and humbled me. It was exciting because I realized that the creation of a decentralized leadership culture, a leadership team that is not primarily based on “the church staff”, bodes well for the future of the kingdom of God on earth. The more leaders we truly empower, the greater impact we can have in the world. But, I was also humbled because…well…who am I to have the privilege of leading and pouring into such a neat group of people? I have done nothing to deserve this. It is purely a gift from God.
So, during that conversation with Brian, I realized that God has simply called me to build into these leaders in the coming months and to let Him worry about the rest. Whether Oasis Madrid grows to be a church of one hundred or one thousand, God has placed in my path a unique group of people; and God is simply asking me to build into a few people (like Ignatius of Loyola; and, by the way, like Jesus); and God is simply asking me to be faithful with those folks, to love them, to give of myself to them, to befriend them and help us all keep our mission simple, focused, loving, counter-cultural and “embodied” (more than merely “reasoned”). I only pray God will give me all that is required to “do right by them”, to truly empower these dear, precious people. To have the ability to help them dream and then to step back and smile as I watch them “Go For It!”.
I remember Ignatius today because I see in him a model of a man who did this and I want to be that kind of man, too. I want to be a man who is remembered not so much by what he wrote on a page, but rather, for invisible impressions written in even just a handful of human-heart-books.
Finally, I also remember Ignatius today, because his was a life of brokenness. And, I guess, during the past few weeks (actually, over the past year), I feel as though God has been doing a breaking work in my heart. It has been painful at times, but I’m beginning to be able to look at the past--and then look beyond the past and embrace a hope for the future once again.
So, the following words of Ignatius echo in my heart today:
I cannot undo the past,
or make it never have happened!
--neither can You. There are some things
that are not possible even for You
--but not many!
I ask You,
and from the bottom of my heart:
would You write straight
with my crooked lines?
Out of the serious mistakes of my life
will You make something beautiful for You?
Teach me to live at peace with You,
to make peace with others
and even with myself.
Give me fresh vision. Let me
experience Your love so deeply
that I am free to
face the future with a steady eye,
and strong in hope.
Ignatius made mistakes. So have I. Too many to mention here. Ignatius acknowledged he was a sinner. So do I. A poor miserable wretch. Ignatius knew first-hand God’s forgiveness. And so do I, thanks be to Jesus!
Ignatius dared to ask God to make straight his crooked lines. Today, I ask God to do the same, so all the world will know just who He is and how great He is.
Like Ignatius, I want to live at peace with God, with others and with myself. I’ve had enough war from without and I’ve had enough war from within. God, would you please still the battle waging inside and out? Would you grant us peace, as only You can?
And would You give me fresh vision for the future? Would You grant me the ability, the strength, the courage and conviction to “face the future with a steady eye”?
Thank You (already) God, for answering that prayer and continuing to answer that prayer. Thank You that you do not abandon us. You have not abandoned me. Thank You. And thank You for helping me to stand strong in hope.
Today, I’m thankful to God for reminding me of spiritual fathers and brothers like Ignatius. His life has inspired me. Or, rather (I should say) the life of Jesus in his life inspires me. So, thank You, Jesus.